The Checklist: Tips for a safe, healthful and nutritious summer

June 14, 2011

Summer officially starts Tuesday!

Here’s a quick list of ways to ensure you stay safe and healthy all summer long.

Help make D.C. Beantown

Look for local green beans and cucumbers later this month and in July. They may be humble vegetables, but both are worth seeking out. Monica Reinagel, author of “Nutrition Diva’s Secrets for a Healthy Diet” (St. Martin’s Griffin, March 2011), says green beans are “cousins to legumes,” so they have more fiber and protein than other green vegetables. “They’re also a good source of Vitamin C, which many people wouldn’t associate with green beans,” she says.

At about 30 calories per cup, green beans are great for snacking. “I have a crush on a new way of cooking them,” Reinagel says. Place them on a baking sheet with some olive oil and a bit of salt and roast them “till they’re a little shrivel-y and have some brown spots” indicating that their natural sugars have caramelized. Don’t want to heat the oven? Reinagel says you can toss the beans on a sheet of aluminum foil placed over the grill grate. “It’s a great way to rescue green beans that have become a little elderly,” she adds.

Cucumbers have about half the calories of a similar portion of green beans, but they don’t offer many vitamins, minerals or fiber, even with the skin on, Reinagel says. A cup of cucumber does provide almost a quarter of the bone-healthy Vitamin K you need in a day, she says. But cucumbers’ prime virtue is that they’re “95 percent water. They’re a great way to rehydrate.”

Try adding a few slices of cucumber and citrus fruit to a pitcher of ice water. “It’s very pretty, and it makes you want to drink more water,” Reinagel says.

For more ways to use your green beans and cucumbers, go to The Washington Post’s Recipe Finder: Basil Buttered Beans; Green Bean, Orange and Olive Salad; Citrus-Marinated Halibut; and Curry Chicken and Rice Salad.

Prepare for bad weather

All that summer heat can spawn lethal storms. And if the recent spate of devastating weather across the country hasn’t persuaded you to prepare your family for a natural disaster, well, I’m not sure what will.

TV coverage after the Joplin, Mo., tornado showed that some people had survived by taking cover in their underground emergency shelters, which they’d stocked with supplies. I’m not suggesting you build such a shelter, but you might want to prepare a family emergency kit and plan.

The American Red Cross offers a list of things to pack in that kit — including an extra pair of prescription glasses and a spare set of car keys (I would never have thought of either on my own!) — that is too long to include here.

Here’s an abbreviated list of items to pack: water, food, medications, clothing and bedding, sanitation supplies, tools (such as flashlights), important family documents and a first aid kit. The Red Cross also walks you through all the stepsyou and your family should take in planning for a disaster.

Score some (safe) ’screen

Summer is time to slather on the sunscreen, right?

Except maybe you’re spooked after hearing about a recent report from the Environmental Working Group, which exposed problems with the U.S. sunscreen supply. The EWG notes that the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t updated standards for sunscreen ingredients, efficacy and safety since 1978 and says some ingredients commonly used in sunscreens may not be safe — or could even contribute to cancer risk.

But the FDA announced Tuesday that it’s taking steps to better regulate sunscreen ingredients and to make sunscreen labels more useful to consumers. And even EWG officials don’t recommend you skip sunscreen altogether. They just suggest you read their report and choose your brand accordingly.

Ali Hendi, a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology and a skin-cancer specialist practicing in Chevy Chase, says that if you want to protect your skin (and your kids’) from cancer and premature aging, staying out of the sun is your best bet. But the next best thing, Hendi says, is using sunscreen.

If you’re worried over reports such as the EWG’s that sunscreen can cause cancer and other bodily harm, Hendi says no human studies have shown that to be the case. “Any potential harms have been extremely over-exaggerated,” he says. “Such a minuscule risk is easily outweighed by sunscreen’s benefits.”

Lest you need more prodding to protect yourself, Hendi points out that “the World Health Organization has recently added UV radiation to its list of known carcinogens.”

And he offers simple criteria to guide your choice: “If you work outdoors, choose one with SPF 30 or higher, and reapply every two to three hours,” he advises. “It has to be broad spectrum,” he adds, meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB radiation.

Those of us who work indoors can get away with a morning application of moisturizer with an SPF (that’s for “sun protection factor”) of 15, Hendi says. Moisturizer for men? Hendi suggests using it instead of after-shave. No one ever need know.

Hendi suggests wearing sunscreen even on cloudy days and, on sunny ones, staying out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. And now might be a good time to buy a nice, broad-brimmed hat for yourself and everyone in your family. It won’t replace sunscreen but offers an extra layer of protection. And you’ll look quite fetching when you wear it, too.

Bone up on beach safety

It’s hard to imagine summer without a trip to a mid-Atlantic beach. But while a shoreline vacation should be fun and relaxing, it comes with its share of hazards. I’ll focus on one of those in each of this summer’s Checklists.

You might have heard them called “rip tides” or “the undertow,” but the proper term is “rip currents,” says Tom Gill, the Virginia Beach-based spokesman for the U.S. Lifesaving Association.

The Web site for the association, which represents beaches that hosted 309 million visitors last year, reported 50 rip-current-related deaths on unguarded beaches and 22 on guarded beaches in 2010.

Rip currents, Gill explains, are channels of water moving away from the shore. They pop up in areas where there’s an obstacle such as a jetty or pier — places where people shouldn’t be swimming anyway, he says. But they also occur when there’s a breach in a sand bar; that gap becomes the path of least resistance for water as it moves away from shore. Swimmers can’t usually see these spots, though sometimes you’ll notice debris or other objects that are caught in a rip current and being swept out to sea.

Some rip currents are so light you don’t notice them, Gill says, but others are strong enough to pull you off your feet and carry you faster than anyone can run. But rip currents won’t pull you under, he says, so if you can manage to float on top of the water, “you’re good to go,” he says. If you’re a good swimmer, you can start swimming parallel to the shore. “Once you’re not being pulled away anymore, you can go ahead and swim in,” Gill says.

If you’re not so strong a swimmer, Gill says, try to float and scream for help. Lifeguards “like loud swimmers in distress,” he says. “Often, the lifeguard recognizes you’re in trouble before you do.”

Read more about rip current safety at ripcurrents.noaa.gov or the United States Lifesaving Association’s site.

Run with Dad

There will always be people who like pushing their bodies to the limit by exercising outdoors on hot summer afternoons. But unless you pay careful attention to hydration and replenishing electrolytes that you sweat away, you can do your body more harm than good by working out hard in the heat.

As MisFits columnist Vicky Hallett wrote last week, many athletes are taking to working out in the evening, when the air has cooled a bit. Some races, including the Georgetown Running Company’s Father’s Day 8K, are now scheduled in the early evening.

If you’re like most of us, rejiggering your exercise schedule means overhauling your whole day. But it’s worth trying. Give it a shot — perhaps at the Father’s Day run — and see how it goes.

The second annual Father’s Day 8K, sponsored by the Georgetown Running Company, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sunday. The course starts and ends at the plaza at Potomac and Grace streets in Georgetown; the course follows the C&O Canal, with the turnaround at the Fletcher’s Boat House parking lot.

Though the race is scheduled to cap National Men’s Health Week, women are, of course, welcome to run, too. As Eduardo Rincon, manager of the Georgetown Running Company store, noted, “there are a lot of women who play both father and mother” to their kids.

Registration is $30 until Saturday; on race day, it’s $40. Kids’ registration is $5. The race takes place rain or shine.

And if Dad needs extra incentive, all participants are invited to happy hour at Chadwicks in Georgetown after the race. You know, to stay hydrated.

(Dads, there’s good reason for you to do this with your kids. Research shows that fathers who adopt healthful habits such as losing weight and exercising can influence their children to do the same. Awards will be given to the top father-daughter and father-son pairs.)

For nutrition news, visit the Checkup blog , follow @jhuget on Twitter and subscribe to the Lean & Fit newsletter .

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